A tribute to Ravi Zacharias

MAY 21 — On Tuesday morning, world-famous Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias died of cancer.

I recall, more than 20 years ago, walking out of the SS2 Evangel bookshop holding a book which had this grand-sounding title, Can Man Live Without God? 

It was written by Indian-born Canadian-American author Ravi Zacharias whom I had never heard of before. One of the blurbs called him the “new CS Lewis” or something to that effect.

A couple of weeks later, I was blown away by the wisdom and logic of the writing. 

Zacharias’ writing sounds like his preaching: bold, confident, serious about truth and falsehood, relentless when it came to logic and the internal consistency of truth-claims.

His MO was chiefly about exposing the self-stultification (or logical hypocrisy) of many sceptics on truth, morality and so on. It was a combative form of apologetics which sought to show how God has "pre-built" a system of truth into the universe such that attempts to defy it tend to create its own havoc.

Here is a sampling of Zacharias’ style. Imagine someone declaring that there is absolute truth and absolute morality, after which a sceptic responds (in bold):

  1. Sceptic: "There is no Right and Wrong" "There is no Absolute Truth" "We can’t be DOGMATIC about anything."

RZ: People who say this never stop to ponder the fact that they obviously believe they’re correct in making these statements — they’ve surely taken that for granted.

We could ask, “Is it absolutely true that there is no absolute truth? Or is what you say only relatively true?” Or perhaps: “Are you right when you say there is no right and wrong? Or could you be wrong as well?”

Finally, how come we’re so dogmatic about not being dogmatic?

  1. Sceptic: "It all depends on perception" "Everything is subjectively interpreted" "We can never be sure of anything"

RZ: This is a variant of the first one. Here the objection against Absolute Truth is "toned down" and at least some alternative "explanation" is proposed in the form of perception, interpretation, etc.

But it’s clear that it still self-destructs somehow.

Because if EVERYTHING depends on perception, then even my belief that "everything depends on perception" will itself depend on perception (!).

And is our certainty that "everything is subjective" a result of our own subjective interpretation as well? Or did we get that from some Absolute Source? And why are we so sure that we can’t be sure of anything?

It should be clear by now that the very saying of these sentences destroys their validity.

  1. Sceptic: "Religious beliefs and truth are all conditioned by culture, history, society, evolution ___ (insert whatever you like)"

RZ: Every time you hear someone say that absolute truth and belief is conditioned by anything, be always careful to see if the speaker himself is similarly conditioned as well. In other words, is he himself affected by the condition which he speaks so confidently about?

If he is, then why should we listen to him? If he isn’t, then maybe he should explain how come this is the case.

Like in the above statement, we could ask if the speaker is himself conditioned by culture, society, last night’s pizza, etc. He will HAVE to say he’s differentiated somehow (unless he doesn’t mind people calling him a fruitcake for contradicting himself), requiring some explanation of how come he — unlike the mass of humanity — possesses some "window" to truth which we all apparently don’t.

  1. Sceptic: Truth is about BOTH/AND, not EITHER/OR.

RZ: Let me ask you, are you saying that EITHER “Truth is about Both/And” OR nothing else?

(I recall a video where Zacharias said even in India, it’s not both you and the bus — it’s one or the other).

Finally

  1. Sceptic: "Everything is an illusion"

RZ: Including the speaker and what was just spoken?

Note that the above by no means "proves" that God is real or whatever. What it does, however, is to force sceptics to confront the fact of their own inconsistencies.

If nothing else, Zacharias forces us to face the absurdity of claiming we can “believe whatever we want” or that “all religions are the same” or that “good and evil are all relative”, etc.

So it was with no small amount of sadness that I read about Zacharias’ diagnosis and, on Tuesday, his death. This was a good man. A caring man. Someone passionate enough for God’s truth and love that he risked so much in his life in the hope that God will use him mightily.

And God has.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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